This week I listened to Dr Rangan Chatterjee's podcast interview with Dr. BJ Fogg, all about how to successfully form the habits we want to cultivate more of in our lives.
When it comes to writing for wellbeing and mindful journaling, the building of regular habits is an important part of the process. Writing at a one-off workshop is wonderful, but creating a regular practice of writing mindfully every day, or every week, can be life-changing. This may sound overdramatic, but I honestly believe it's true.
Writing is like a muscle, getting stronger and more flexible every time you use it. If you tried to sit and write for an hour having not done so for several months, I think it would be fair to assume that you might struggle (it's a different type of concentration, not to mention the aching hand!)
To begin with, writing little and often is the perfect way to ease yourself in. This is exactly what Harvard researcher BJ Fogg describes in the podcast. He says that the success of habit forming comes not from the repetition, but from the reward feelings we give ourselves after we succeed.
For example, we'll feel really good about ourselves if we achieve our goal of writing one line a day, for one week. However, if we had set a bigger goal of writing a whole blog post every day for a week, and then slip up and don't write one on Thursday, we are likely to criticise ourselves and develop negative feelings around the habit because we 'failed'.
Starting with very small goals and allowing ourselves that feeling of success is more important than achieving a bigger goal for a long period of time.
Often, by setting really small goals, we end up achieving more. One you've written one line a day at the bottom of your work diary for a few days, you might end up wanting to write more. By week two, perhaps you're writing a paragraph, or filling a whole blank page, because you've enjoyed the feeling of achievement and want to excel even further.
This is a much kinder and more successful approach than saying straight away that you'll write a blog post a day. You mind focuses on the 'Yes, you've done well' rather than 'Oh no, you haven't succeeded today'. Naturally, our mind want to do more of what gives us good feelings and less of what gives us bad.
BJ Fogg says that so many habit programs purposely set people up to fail, and this makes him so frustrated. He particularly references diet programs which capitalise on people's feelings of not being good enough. Unfortunately, there's a lot of money to be made from selling people (especially women) ways to improve themselves. If the goal is too high and subsequently not met, participants are likely to enrol again. This is a trap to be aware of and not fall into.
It's important, if possible, to design your own achievable 'program' or goal, where you have a much better chance of success. For writing, this might be focusing on the exercises that you particularly enjoy, and limiting yourself to a small word count.
You could try:
'I will write a Have Done list every night to record my achievements that day.'
'Each Sunday, I'll write a small paragraph about how my week has been.'
It can be helpful to link your writing task to a prompt activity as well:
'When I'm waiting for the kettle to boil, I'll scribble on a notepad about how I feel at the moment.'
I'm trying to get into more a regular habit for my Morning Pages, because I can be a bit lax on doing them every day. From this week, I'm going to try keeping my notepad by the back door, and when I let my dog out in the garden and sit with my cup of tea (an already established habit) I'm going to sit and write my pages. There's not going to be a lower word limit to begin with, because I want to make the task easy for myself. Once I have (hopefully) done this successfully for a week or so, I can start adding in a three page goal.
If you're interested in the full podcast, I've included it below as a video. Let me know if you enjoy it, and if you've got any ideas for setting yourself some mini-writing habits to fall into over the next few weeks.
Very Best Wishes,